Writing "Revolutions" represents the greatest professional accomplishment of my career as a photographer, but it was also far more difficult than I ever expected. Today I am reflecting back on the experience to share a look behind-the-scenes at what it took to write "Revolutions".
It was important to me that "Revolutions" was done correctly. First, this was the first book I was going to write, and if I did a poor job, it would be the last book anyone would ever buy. The success of any future second book hinges on the first. Secondly, there is something very motivating about knowing you are making something with your name on the front. People can come read my blog and form an opinion about me without ever knowing my name, but that's just not the case with a book. My reputation is right there, front and center. Pride is a good reason to do something the correct way.
Beyond those motivations, I was also compelled by the desire to produce art. Each image contained in the book is artwork, and I wanted the final compilation of these images to be its own piece of artwork. This book is like a miniature gallery exhibit of my work - one that fits in a bag or sits on a coffee table. Most photo books do not feature a narrative story to accompany the images, so "Revolutions" represented two art forms - photography and writing - that needed to be combined into one perfect medley.
Finally, every accomplished photographer I know has written a book, and I believe that is one of the many ways to distinguish between photographers who really care about their craft, and those who consider this a hobby. Sure, you don't have to write a book to be a serious artist (there are many photographers who make a full-time living without writing books!), but I have always seen the time and resource commitment needed to publish a book is a good measure of how serious the artist is about their tradecraft.
Wedding photographers have the benefit of paying customers, but I have never been paid by any of the trees I have photographed. Sadly, writing a book is one of the harder ways to make money as a photographer, because the financial investment required to generate the product is insanely high. In the era of free blogs, who is going to pay money to read?
Writing "Revolutions" was the easy part. During the course of the month long road trip that makes up the narrative and photographic story, I took detailed notes and transcribed records of the days. At the end of the journey, I had nearly 40 typed pages of notes and 60 pages of handwritten notes. The book is basically an edited version of those notes; I removed the "blah blah blah" and adjusted the story to articulate only the best parts of the adventure.
Originally I had structured the book into two sections: one with the photographs and one with the narrative story. The reason for this was that I did not want to have to display the photographs in chronological order, which was the logical ordering of images if they were intermixed with a story that was told in chronological order.
But when we got to editing, that plan was scrapped.
Asking someone to edit a book like this is a tricky prospect; I needed someone who would be brutally honest and unafraid of hurting my feelings. Someone who can write better than I can. Thankfully, I know someone just like that! I enlisted the help of a trusted friend and worked on preparing a manuscript that I could present for editing.
A few weeks later, Clara, my editor, was given a hard copy printed transcript of the book that was made at Office Depot. I had generated PDFs of the book from my computer, but that would be hard for her to mark up. I felt like the editor should benefit from being able to turn real pages! With $20 and a copy machine, I created a manuscript that could be viewed in "book form" and allowed Clara to write, scribble, and mark up the thing mercilessly.
Good thinking on my part, because I got a red pen (and permanent marker!) covered book back! Clara suggested some major edits to the story, including to tell it as one story with photographs and text intermixed. At first I was down on the idea - I had spent months putting the book into this format - but upon reflection, I realized Clara was right. There was too much text at one end of the story and the photographs lacked context when not paired with words.
So I rewrote the whole book.